artificial intelligence

[OPINION] People-centered and responsible use of AI

Kira Christianne D. Azucena

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[OPINION] People-centered and responsible use of AI

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'A comprehensive approach is needed to ensure that all states benefit from the promise of AI while at the same time avoiding serious risks and addressing the main challenges'

Earlier this month, the Philippines joined the Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Military Domain (REAIM) Summit at the Hague. This conference was a platform for all stakeholders to discuss key opportunities, challenges, and risks associated with military applications of AI. Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo was represented by Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and International Economic Relations Carlos Sorreta.

This week, the Philippines also sent a delegation to the Regional Conference on the Humanitarian and Social Impact of Autonomous Weapons Systems in San Jose, Costa Rica. This gathering resulted in a communiqué signed by Latin American states to affirm the importance of retaining the centrality of human control in the use of force and the need to address the risks and challenges posed by the development of autonomous weapon systems. Undersecretary Sorreta delivered a video statement in support of the conference.

The Philippines participated in both conferences at the invitation of host countries the Netherlands and Costa Rica, respectively, in recognition of the Philippines’ active role in taking forward global conversations on this area.

In his maiden speech before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. identified rapid technological developments – which are transforming human life and experience as we know it – among some of the most pressing of global challenges.

While the imminent diffusion of emerging technologies could solve many of our old problems, the President said “they could also disrupt our political and social orders. Our governance structures must therefore keep up.”

AI is perhaps the most significant of these transformative technologies. We still barely understand where the AI revolution is leading us. What we know is that it has widespread implications on the economy, especially on unskilled labor, and can play a crucial role in our sustainable development. A people-centered application of AI can enhance key basic infrastructure, such as transportation, food security, and disaster risk reduction.

At present, AI has divided the world into haves and have-nots. Only a few countries are fully enjoying the benefits of this technology. Together with developing countries, the Philippines asserts our inalienable rights to access these technologies. Through our Department of Trade and Industry, we have put together an AI roadmap.

In the area of defense, the acquisition of advanced technologies is crucial to the Department of National Defense’s vision of a modern and capable defense organization that guarantees Philippine security, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. AI can contribute to the actualization of the goals of the AFP Modernization Program, and thus the Philippines seeks to benefit fully from military applications of AI.

It is in this context that we engaged fully and constructively in multilateral conversations on how best to promote the responsible use of AI in the military context. This included interfaces with governments, the private sector, and the academe. The issue is multifaceted and requires focused discussion of all relevant issues and sincere efforts toward separating facts from misconception.

In these engagements, what we will not waver from is our determination — which we share with a growing coalition of states — that the military application of AI should never lead to the development of autonomous weapons systems that could operate without meaningful human control.

The development of such weapons could have far-reaching strategic implications, similar to the impact of the replacement of the cavalry with gunpowder a few centuries back. It could result in arms races and strategic asymmetries that benefit major powers at the expense of smaller states. More importantly, the displacement of human decision-making over the use of force would have the effect of reducing human lives to mere data sets for machines and algorithms to interpret. The ethical implications are profound.

This is why the President has joined world leaders such as Pope Francis and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in calling for legal rules to prevent such cynical weaponization of AI. In Geneva, the Philippines, along with a group of like-minded countries, has proposed a legally binding protocol that prohibits autonomous weapons without meaningful human control and cannot be used in accordance with IHL, and regulates other weapons that incorporate autonomy. We have also been facilitating regional conversations on this issue, including among ASEAN countries.

There remain some differences among states on this issue, but we are playing our part to provide a comprehensive perspective. At the General Assembly last year, we participated in the drafting of a joint statement endorsed by 70 countries affirming the need for humans to retain control over the use of force and to pursue a normative and operational framework on autonomous weapons. A comprehensive approach is needed to ensure that all states benefit from the promise of AI while at the same time avoiding serious risks and addressing the main challenges. Middle powers like the Philippines engage on the issue – whether in Geneva, New York, The Hague, or San Jose – to help achieve and sustain this.

The Philippines’ view reflects our national commitment to upholding developing countries’ access to these technologies for sustainable development within a rules-based international order, as well as to ensuring that humans retain control over the use of force. Our goal is to help build norms and legal rules that will strengthen the global governance regime so that the AI revolution will transform human lives for the better and be a force for peace and development, and not for war.

As Undersecretary Sorreta said in the Hague, what we need is more – not less – humanity. –

Kira Christianne D. Azucena is the Assistant Secretary for United Nations and Other International Organizations at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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